Immunology

Intercellular Traffic

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Science  20 Aug 2004:
Vol. 305, Issue 5687, pp. 1079
DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5687.1079c

The cells of the immune system are dispersed and highly mobile elements that employ diverse means of intercellular communication, such as direct cell-to-cell contact and soluble cytokines. Studies of other cell types (for instance, see Rustom et al., Reports, 13 Feb, p. 1007) have suggested that intercellular communication may also involve actin-driven protrusions that elaborate into tubular networks between cells, which have been dubbed nanotubular highways.

Using single-photon confocal microscopy, Önfelt et al. describe the formation in cell culture of similar nanotube-like entities between Epstein-Barr virus-transformed B cells, macrophages, and natural killer (NK) cells. These transient structures varied considerably in length, but were sometimes observed to extend over 100 μm. Unlike previously described cellular nanotubes, which form via extensions that reach out to neighboring cells, these structures appeared to form as cells moved apart after cell contact had taken place. The detection of membrane proteins and lipids along the nanotubes and their transfer between interacting cells raises the possibility that nanotubular networks might facilitate exchange of cell surface components during an immune response. — SJS

J. Immunol. 173, 1511 (2004).

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